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Damian McBride email smears

"Gordon Brown is gay" – except that he isn’t

   Final word on the Damian McBride issue.   Michael Brown, the Independent journalist and former Tory MP said on the World Tonight this week that in 1993 when he was in the then government whips’ office he had a discussion with the Tory MP Giles Brandreath about smearing Gordon Brown. 

     They had heard rumours that the then shadow chancellor was gay and thought they should maybe spread the word around a bit.  After the conversation they dropped the idea as unethical and probably counterproductive.   Michael Brown is himself gay and it may seem odd to us today to think that there is anything objectionable about being homosexual.  But things were different back in 1993.  Actually rumours of a sexual nature followed the Chancellor throughout the 1990s – they were completely false, but kept being recylced. 

   The point about this is that it is quite difficult to say that this action of discussing a smear in the government whips office is any different in principle to discussing it in an email.  After all, the McBride-Draper exchange was never intended for publication.  It was supposed to be a private discussion between friends. If it had remained that way would their actions have been unacceptable?  You could argue that a discussion in the whips office is more serious than an exchange of emails. 
   Indeed, should the Conservative Party apologise for the fact that senior government figures – whips Brown and Brandreath – contemplated smearing Gordon Brown?  Of course a lot of time has passed, and there is no record of the discussion – except now that it is now on BBC Iplayer for Tuesday 15th April 2009.  You can go and listen to it. 
   I’m not trying to defend Damian McBride here, who has behaved badly.  He clearly intended his scribblings to be considered for publication in the proposed  Draper/Labour blog, Red Rag.  His smears of Tory MPs were more numerous and more objectionable than the smear proposed by the Tories sixteen years ago. 
    Nevertheless, something about this whole affair has left me feeling distinctly queasy.  If private conversations are no longer private; if every off key or dodgy remark is actionable; if every piece of gossip is considered defamatory, whether it is published or not, then we are altering the rules of private and personal conduct pretty massively.  
    Of course, McBride should have remembered the first rule of the internet: never put in an email anything you wouldn’t write on a postcard.   But I wonder now if someone had overheard him speak in a derogatory way about opposition MPs, or had heard him recycle lobby gossip – for that was what he was doing, many people had heard these rumours – would he have had to resign then?  
     This penetration of the personal leads to the worrying possibility that any disaffected employee of any organisation could severely damage a fellow employee by revealing the content of private conversations.  Say a newspaper editor discussed the chancellor’s sex life during an editorial conference or told a story he or she had heard about an MP being caught with their trousers down.  The remarks may not have been intended for publication, but the mere mention of them in a context in which they could theoretically find their way into printcould presumably now be actionable.  
    Certainly, it would be a great way to get rid of an editor you didn’t like.   Or a political rival.  Careless talk costs jobs. 

About iain2macwhirter

Writer and journalist.


8 thoughts on “"Gordon Brown is gay" – except that he isn’t

  1. Gone are the days when careless talk cost lives or is it because we don’t want to acknowledge that fact.McBride is just another worker who behaved badly.

    Posted by subrosa | April 17, 2009, 8:32 pm
  2. Final word?Yeah – You wish LOL

    Posted by Silent Hunter | April 17, 2009, 9:04 pm
  3. Nothing objectionable about being homosexual.I guess you havnt had shit on the end of your knob?

    Posted by Anonymous | April 17, 2009, 9:15 pm
  4. God, what a desperate, struggling attempt to defend the indefensible. Sanctity of private discussion? Remind us again, Iain – which political party is it that wants to access everyone’s email and web history?In your recent rant against the blogosphere you omitted mention one of its most important attribute – leaks and inconvenient facts now have somewhere to go to get published. Would the Guardian have published the footage of the murder of Ian Tomlinson if they hadn’t known it was going to be all over the ether anyway? Would the Times have published those emails if they hadn’t known that Guido would be spreading them all over the planet if they didn’t?Let me get you really worried. Ordinary people are just acquiring the skill of blowing this particular whistle. They will get better – look at the character of our political leaders, and see what a wonderful incentive they have. Now let me get you really, really worried. How many telephone calls do you think it would take to destroy New Labour in Scotland? I don’t know, but I’ll bet you that that number isn’t in double figures. Fingers could be hovering over the dial buttons or the send key as we speak.Good luck – you’re sure going to need it.

    Posted by Vronsky | April 18, 2009, 7:51 am
  5. Iain like you I dont like annymous bloggers so yes this is me and I largely agree with your analysis of both the blogging and smearing debates.However I think you underestimate the way in which blogging and the net have changed the political discourse.Since Mandelsons first entry in1987, things have got much worse particularly inside Labour see my article in the Scotsman last Monday.

    Posted by Hugh Kerr | April 18, 2009, 12:49 pm
  6. Two thoughts.Setting up a web site to smear members of the opposition is one step further than having a chat about it.Smearing the wife of a politician is another step too. Overall the McBride issue was the proverbial straw. The culture of anger and negative attitudes that surround Brown are what are so awful. I remember when he came to power with all that talk about his vision, ideas and all those other fluffy words supposed to show us what a caring, thinking bloke our PM is. Well he’s done little to deliver on that and he’s done little to rid Downing St of its culture of spin. I blogged way back at the start of GB’s premiership about his lack of abilities as a leader; he proves it day in and day out. He may have a brain the size of a planet but he has the emotional intelligence of a gnat. You can just be a leader because you’re called a leader. It’s a fundamental that Brown just doesn’t grasp, which is why he’s surrounded himself with bully boys

    Posted by Richard Havers | April 18, 2009, 12:58 pm
  7. We imagine that most Members of Parliament are bisexual; along with Napoleon, Churchill, Alexander the Great, Hitler, Mao, Lincoln, Elvis, etc. etc. The Dutroux Affair appeared to demonstrate the extent to which so many of the top people expose themselves to the possibility of blackmail.

    Posted by Anon | April 18, 2009, 6:11 pm
  8. After all, the McBride-Draper exchange was never intended for publication. It was supposed to be a private discussion between friendsI am soundly rebuked, Mr McWhirter.At this very moment I am de-registering a number of www sites I have registered in the past wee while.Anyone wanting to post on the following sites needn’t bother.JackStrawInstigatesTorture.comJacquiBlueUses2But-plugs.comMrHeathNeverMarriedConveniently.comThe discussions I have had with people who don’t like NuLab are even worse.

    Posted by Merkin | April 30, 2009, 6:47 pm

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